The Guide to the Guide to Comics - WIZARD #77 (January 1998)

Is Todd McFarlane a f--king doorknob?  What was the “second coming of Image”?  And does anyone understand the ending of The Long Halloween?  Find out in The Guide to the Guide to Comics!

Spawn, painted by Fred Fields (not Sam Kieth, as I initially assumed as a teenager), is the direct market cover star, while a Simon Bisley Batman graces the newsstand edition.  It’s the big year-ender issue, and it’s packed with fifty additional pages.

In this month’s Wizard, we have features on...Marvel’s shift away from X-books in favor of its “core heroes,” a Brian Douglas Ahern cartoon starring the Justice League and the Super Friends, an examination of what remains of the small press by Tom Palmer, Jr., a Todd McFarlane interview, a preview of comics in 1998, a lookback at 1997, a more specific retrospective on the Wizard bullpen’s 1997, and an attempt to answer the pressing questions facing 1998.

The Standards include Basic Training (George Perez covers large group shots), Toy Chest, Trailer Park, Manga Scene, The Skinny, and Card Market.  Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, a cartoon calendar by Brian Douglas Ahern, and market information.  Replacing the Wizard Profile is Time Travel by Peter Sanderson, which examines comics events from years past.

Even the polybag is significant this issue -- included with Wizard #77 is the very first Earth X comic, back when it was still an Alex Ross proposal and not a multi-year publishing project for Marvel.  The first DC #1/2 comic, Nightwing #1/2 by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, is also offered this issue.

Magic Words

It’s a special edition of the letter column, with thirteen comic professionals providing the letters to the editor.  If you want a glimpse into the chummy relationship enjoyed by Wizard and various industry types, this is a great example.  Letters include Stan Lee defending the viability of comics, Jim Lee asking why Wizard staffers keep stealing his robe at hotels, Jeph Loeb comparing the comics industry to Snapple, Christina Z. explaining why unrealistic “perfect” bodies in comics are okay, and my two favorites…Erik Larsen asking who won the 1970s “Star in a Comic!” contest sponsored by Clark Bars (and berating Wizard for its lack of history when selecting comics’ defining moments), and Fabian Nicieza politely griping about the lack of Acclaim coverage in the magazine…and asking for more X-Men covers.

The Pen Pal listings at the bottom of each page are also “special” this month, with the names of minor celebrities, comic characters, and Wizard-friendly creators thrown in.  These appear to be real addresses, so I’m not sure what happened if you wrote to Dr. Frankenfurter of Redwood City, CA.

Wizard News

The “second coming of Image” is proclaimed, with the announcement of the new Wildstorm imprint, Cliffhanger.  It features Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers, J. Scott Campbell’s Danger Girl, and Humberto Ramos’ Crimson.  Jim Lee was eager to sign each creator, but didn’t want them with the more “retro” Homage Comics line.  Lee declares that these books are “clearly mainstream, yet outside the superhero realm.”  Wizard has exclusive preview art from each book, and had this imprint launched just a few years earlier, I’m sure it would’ve had the full-court Wizard press on practically every page of the magazine.  A new creator-owned imprint by the hottest artists in comics; one with no shortage of T&A material?  1994 Wizard would’ve swooned.  1998 Wizard never seemed overly interested in Cliffhanger, as I recall.  They probably published a special edition magazine to promote the line, but the monthly series didn’t focus too heavily on Cliffhanger titles.  Then again, the two most popular Cliffhanger books seemed to have a problem with regular shipping, so that could’ve hampered Wizard’s enthusiasm.

In other news…Top Cow is publishing its first Tomb Raider comic, and it’s a mail-order exclusive crossover with Witchblade …Salvador Larroca will replace Alan Davis on Fantastic Four…inspired by the success of 1997’s Daredevil/Deadpool annual, all 1998 Marvel annuals will be crossovers…Dan Jurgens has been announced as the writer of Thor…Steve Skroce is ditching Amazing Spider-Man for Youngblood…Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale will follow up The Long Halloween with a Superman project…and Wizard hints that if Marvel minds its Ps and Qs, it could have quite an Event in its empty thirteenth floor.  Everyone knows what comes next, right?

Finally, Wizard tries to explain the ending of The Long Halloween.  I enjoyed the previous Loeb/Sale Batman projects, but never thought The Long Halloween lived up to the hype.  The ridiculous revelation of Holiday’s identity is a major reason why.

Family Reunion

A piece on the new direction of Marvel, which will focus on all corners of its universe equally instead of relying on the X-Men to carry the company.  Bob Harras and Kurt Busiek are interviewed, with both promising organic connections between various titles that don’t rely on giant crossovers that rob characters of their individuality.  All of this is fine, but the article is accompanied by a sidebar that lists each major Marvel character and breaks down “Their Deal”, their “Defining Moment,” and “Where It Went Astray” as only Wizard can.  (Obnoxiously.)

Predictably, almost all “Defining Moments” of the heroes occurred during the Bronze Age, with Roger Stern’s Amazing Spider-Man run receiving yet another tribute as Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 is listed as the character’s “Defining Moment.”  This is, I’m not exaggerating, at least the tenth time Wizard has chosen to glorify that two-parter.  And there’s nothing wrong with those comics, but after reading about how this was the Spider-Man moment for five years, how could it have possibly lived up to the hype when I finally read that storyline?

As for “Where It Went Astray,” it’s not hard to guess that Wizard cites pretty much any comic published after 1990.  For example, Thor went bad when Eric Masterson took over in #451, and Captain America’s “Fighting Chance” was almost the death of Cap after all, according to Wizard.  Most fans likely wouldn’t disagree with these choices today, but you would find arguments that the Bob Harras/Steve Epting Avengers was “lackluster” and that Spider-Man’s marriage was the “seed” that began his downfall.  (The specific “Where It Went Astray” moment is the return of the Spider-Clone, although even some fans would argue that point to this day.  I think the lack of effort to bring attention to the titles post-clone hurt the books even more than the clone storyline.)

It’s also worth mentioning that the close continuity Marvel hopes to bring to its titles is trashed as soon as the next, more Wizard-friendly, regime arrives.  Remember when Asgard was floating over Manhattan and no other hero noticed?  Or when Wolverine managed to appear on numerous superhero teams simultaneously?  Or when Kang declared war on the entire planet, blew up the UN, kept the Marvel superheroes in concentration camps, and destroyed Washington, DC and no other title could be bothered to acknowledge it?

What Friends Are For

Brian Douglas Ahern occasionally contributes cartoons for the magazine’s interior; this installment has the Super Friends teaming up the “scary” JLA of 1997.  The humor is pretty much what you’d expect it to be, but some of it makes me laugh to this day.

Casting Call

Wizard goes for a third attempt at casting an X-Men film, based on rumors that the movie is close to production in real life.  The dream cast includes…

Patrick Stewart as Professor X (It’s a fairly obvious choice, but with good reason.)

Michael Biehn (The Terminator) as Cyclops, who was already in his 40s.

Nicole Kidman as Phoenix

Robert DeNiro as Wolverine

Cary Elwes as Angel

Craig Kilborn (original host of The Daily Show) as Iceman

Iman as Storm

Charisma Carpenter as Rogue

Sam Neill as the Beast

Morris Chestnut as Bishop

Tia Carrere as Psylocke

Jonathan Brandis as Cannonball (based on the premise that he played a stutterer in Stephen King’s It.  Huh?)

Patrick Muldoon (Melrose Place) as Gambit

Fairuza Balk (The Craft) as Marrow

Gloria Reuben (ER) as Dr. Cecilia Reyes

“The Australian lunatic” Jacko as Maggott (back when everyone assumed Maggott was Australian.)

Russell Crowe as Mr. Sinister

Scot Glenn (Absolute Power) as Bastion

Brian Thompson (The X-Files) as Apocalypse

Rutger Hauer as Magneto

And, once again, Clancy Brown as Sabretooth

The Wizard Q&A - Todd McFarlane

An interview based on the premise that Todd McFarlane is the God of Comics and that he’s had the greatest year in history.  McFarlane, who’s interviewed in the office that sits above his garage with his wife at the computer behind him, explains that he’s just getting started in his mission to make Spawn as iconic as Superman.  He’s dismissive of every industry trend that’s brought to him (like Superman’s new look or Heroes Return), claiming that it’s all short-term thinking and he doesn’t see the point.  McFarlane feels that he’s building an empire, and the popularity of Spawn is going to bring more outsiders into comics.  He also has some harsh words for Rob Liefeld, and makes it clear that pretty much nothing is going to bring him back to Marvel Comics.

Best of the Best

An awards show-style retrospective on the previous year.  Wizard hands out its picks for…

Best Comic Series - Astro City

1998’s Comic Book Series to Keep Your Eye On - Avengers

Best Hero - Robin

1998’s Hero to Keep Your Eye On - Captain America (based on Waid/Garney’s return, although the book receives a lukewarm review from Wizard in just a few issues.)

Best Villain - Baron Zemo

1998’s Villain to Keep Your Eye On - Prometheus

Best Writer - Kurt Busiek

1998’s Writer to Keep Your Eye On - Joe Kelly

Best Artist - Joe Madureira

1998’s Artist to Keep Your Eye On - Andy Kubert

Best Slugfest - JLA vs. Heaven and Hell

1998’s Slugfest to Keep Your Eye On - Avengers vs. Thunderbolts

Best Moment - Thunderbolts Revealed  (“C’mon admit it -- even YOU were shocked that the T-Bolts were really the Masters of Evil.”  No, I wasn’t, Wizard -- because you spoiled Thunderbolts #1 for me.  In fairness, I did buy Thunderbolts #1 around two weeks after its release, but still…)

1998’s Moment to Keep Your Eye On - The return of traditional Superman.

Best Sleeper Book - Akiko

1998’s Sleeper Book to Keep Your Eye On - Major Bummer

Best New Character - Dogwelder

1998’s New Character to Keep Your Eye On - ???????????????? (“How the hell should we know?”)

Publisher of the Year - DC Comics

1998’s Publisher to Keep Your Eye On - Marvel Comics

There’s also a segment called “What Were They Thinking” to single out the low points of the year.  (I’ll confess that I subconsciously swiped this category when writing a yearly wrap-up of ‘90s X-books on my blog.)  Wizard repeats its assertion that the Spider-Man titles haven’t truly recovered from the clone mess; their dissatisfaction with the line will be the focus of an entire article in the very next issue (archived on the What Would Spidey Do blog).  Given the magazine’s popularity and influence during this era, I wonder if it swayed Marvel’s decision to go with a revamp in 1998.

The Fate of ‘98

Accompanied by Fred Hembeck cartoons, Wizard “answers the most important comic book questions for 1998.”  The questions, along with Wizard’s humble predictions, include…

“Will Superman put DC over the top in 1998, or is a 60-year-old hero starting to show his age?”  Wizard is confident that Superman will never replace Batman as DC’s most popular hero in the public’s eye, and reports that even inside Hollywood, there isn’t a lot of faith in the planned Superman Lives, starring Nicolas Cage.  Karl Kesel and Dan Jurgens also provide quotes about the current state of the comics.  They report that the Superman line outsells Batman comics today, and Jurgens is upset that DC has decided to downplay Superman’s sixtieth anniversary…

“Will Todd McFarlane ever draw a comic again?”  Wizard says no, and McFarlane says they’re probably right.  McFarlane repeats his stance that Greg Capullo’s a better artist than he is, so he doesn’t feel as if Spawn is hurting…

“Will Wolverine finally get his adamantium back?”  Joe Kelly and Steven Seagle think that they can pull it off soon…

“Has Spider-Man hit rock bottom?”  Wizard is hung up on the idea that Spider-Man books have no buzz (they even mentioned this a few issues ago in their positive review of Peter Parker, Spider-Man) and that something must be done.  Their assessment of the current state of the comics, however, leads me to believe that the writers aren’t even following the books at this date.  MJ was not a “supermodel” (The only time she was portrayed as a wildly successful model was for a year early in the marriage, in order to play up Peter’s insecurities about being married to her, and to set up the destruction of her career.  Also, Marvel was going out of its way to de-glam MJ during this era, even cutting her hair for a few issues)…Peter wasn’t doing great in school; an obnoxious tutor character was even introduced to emphasize that Peter is now too distracted to be a star student…and Peter certainly wasn’t being well-paid at the Daily Bugle in these comics, just as the Bugle has never paid him great.  That doesn’t mean that the line didn’t have problems in 1997 -- boy, did it have some problems -- but Wizard’s opinion is largely ignorant…

“Can Joe Madureira survive without the X-Men?”  A conversation based on the belief that Battle Chasers is going to have a lengthy run and that Joe Madureira will stick with comics.  It is interesting that a fantasy title is viewed as some incredibly risky career move…

“Will the much-rumored X-Men and Spider-Man movies ever be made?”  Wizard thinks that X-Men could be out as early as 1998, but isn’t optimistic about Spider-Man’s future…

“Can Awesome Entertainment successfully overcome the controversy surrounding Rob Liefeld?”  The feeling seems to be “yes,” given the talent he’s surrounded himself with…

“Where’s Jim Shooter?”  Working for Saban and focusing on screenwriting, he tells the magazine.  He also reports that he’ll probably do a Gen 13 Bootleg arc with Jim Starlin someday.

 The Skinny

Based on a 1-6 ranking (6 as the best, 1 as the worst), this issue Excalibur (1), Detective Comics (3), Resurrection Man (4), and Quantum and Woody (5) are reviewed.  Excalibur, in the middle of the Raab/Larocca run, receives one of the harshest reviews Wizard has handed out yet, deeming the book cluttered with too many characters and dangling plotlines, featuring lame characters like Pete Wisdom, “a crappy Wolverine rehash with his ‘finger blades.’”  Even though Excalibur is the lowest-selling X-book and is rumored for cancellation, it’s still consistently a Top 30 book during this era.  Another sign that Marvel seemed to be paying attention to Wizard is the closing line, “this book is a poor excuse for keeping once-cool characters like Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pryde out of the real X-Men.”  In less than a year, guess who rejoins the X-Men?


The Heroes Return relaunches of Avengers and Iron Man merit the “Read this Book!” blurbs this month.  Wizard continues to highlight lower-selling DC titles and independent comics during this section, while the more mainstream titles are relegated to an “Also Shipping” sidebar.

Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month

A special edition of the list, featuring the Top 10 Politically Incorrect Heroes & Villains.  (Somehow, it turns into an excuse for more French bashing.)  This isn’t so different from many of the list articles you’ll see online today, although I think much of Wizard’s offense is clearly played for laughs.  There are probably non-ironic articles on Bruce Wayne’s wealth out there today that aren’t much different from the joke entry seen here.


Top Ten Comics

A special edition, recapping the Top Ten back issues of the year…which are pretty much the same ones seen every month.  Early issues of Witchblade and JLA, Garth Ennis comics, and Darkchylde, who carries on the tradition of the Bad Girls.

Wizard Market Watch

Wizard thinks Kabuki: Fear the Reaper is a Buried Treasure, while Bone #1 is sinking in value.

Wizard’s Top Ten Hottest Writers are…

  1. Grant Morrison
  2. Mark Waid
  3. Garth Ennis
  4. Peter David
  5. Kurt Busiek
  6. Joe Kelly
  7. Scott Lobdell
  8. Steven T. Seagle
  9. James Robinson
  10. Frank Miller

Wizard’s Ten Hottest Artists are…

  1. Michael Turner
  2. Joe Madureira
  3. Jim Lee
  4. Marc Silvestri
  5. Alex Ross
  6. Adam Kubert
  7. Andy Kubert
  8. Carlos Pacheco
  9. J. Scott Campbell
  10. Chris Bachalo

Top 100 - October 1997

Uncanny X-Men #350 and X-Men 70 top the list, while Marvel’s Heroes Reborn: The Return miniseries sold better than expected, with each issue making the Top Ten.  Witchblade is now the second Image title to enter the Top Ten, following Spawn at Number Three. Lower on the chart, Incredible Hulk is now outselling all of the Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman titles, who are stuck in the 25-50 chart positions.

Time Travel

Peter Sanderson looks back at December 1977, which saw the debut of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne team on Uncanny X-Men.

So, what did we learn today?

Money Quotes:

  • “We’re hoping to bring a sense of clarity…Clear stories and clear characters with clear motivations.” - Steven Seagle on what he hopes to deliver on Uncanny X-Men.
  • “I’m a big fan of superhero comics, but I love pizza, too.  I just don’t want to eat it every day.” - Jim Valentino, who is bringing several small-press comics to Image.
  • “I either love comic books and I’m a smart guy, or I’m a f---ing doorknob because I’m sticking around a place that doesn’t care.” - Todd McFarlane
  • “The year of my being controversial has passed us by…I’ve battled nuclear missiles this last year, and I think I’m pretty damn-near invulnerable.” - Rob Liefeld

Nope:  The Heroes Reborn version of Bucky doesn’t lead a new team of New Warriors in 1999…Neil Gaiman doesn’t write a Dr. Strange series (he did pitch a movie to Marvel years later, though)…Mark Buckingham doesn’t become the regular penciler on Amazing Spider-ManNew Years Evil: Gog doesn’t lead into a monthly Kingdom series…and Sensational Spider-Man #24 doesn’t feature Peter and MJ on a cruise ship (this is the Looter story that Todd Dezago could never seem to work into that title).

Wizard’s preview of 1998 teases several unseen storylines.  We have a glimpse into Scott Lobdell’s original plans for Fantastic Four, including “serious medical developments for Sue,” someone stealing Namor’s monster-beckoning horn, the Wizard recruiting a newer, tougher Frightful Four, and a battle that involves the Negative Man, Reed’s secret cache of weapons, and the Crucible.  Over in Captain America, Cap never searches for a potential replacement, and the Falcon doesn’t return (during Mark Waid’s stint, at least).  Waid also doesn’t get around to a Captain America or Black Panther guest spot in Ka-Zar.  Also, the announced Daredevil/Ka-Zar ’98 annual, written by Ann Nocenti, was shelved.  (As far as I know, it remains in the drawer.  You can see a page of it here.)  Some unexplored Larry Hama plots from Generation X include Synch and Jubilee’s powers taking “some unexpected turns,” along with a few “non-X” villains, and the teased return of Blink.  The Spider-Man titles hint at a major storyline involving the assassination of Norman Osborn that will lead to a severe stress on Peter and MJ’s marriage…doesn’t happen.  As for Wolverine, his adamantium doesn’t return in 1998, even though issue #125 of his solo series is teased as a possibility.

Finally, it seems like every comics-themed project the Trailer Park column covers remains unproduced.  No Nic Cage as Superman in 1999…George Clooney doesn’t return for the fifth Batman film in 2000 (the story now only features one villain, and is said to be closer in tone to the first Burton film)…Spawn II is not “a go” after all…the animated Gen 13 isn’t released in America…no animated Monkeyman and O’Brien or Ash films…Wolff & Byrd never hit the big screen…and somehow, Geena Davis never starred as Queen Beryl in a live-action Sailor Moon film.

Stuff Wizard Likes:  Wizard celebrates its favorite comics and toys of the year, such as Alpha Flight (1997) #1, Gon Swimmin’, Robin #46, Uncanny X-Men #346, the Apocalypse Rising figure, Hydro Blast Wolverine (Wizard thinks is the best-looking Wolverine toy yet), and of course, the Slave Leia action figure.

Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like:  Spice World (“this year’s sign of impending doom”)…the Spawn film…Joseph of the X-Men…Greedo shooting first…the conclusions to Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives! and Batman: The Long Halloween…the silver repaint of the “Ninja Spawn” action figure…“Teen Tony” (from pre-Heroes Reborn Iron Man)…DC’s “incredibly boring and insultingly bad Genesis crossover”…and the “lame” electro-Superman.

Some old targets are also dragged out, like Heroes Reborn, Spider-Man’s marriage (am I the only one who thinks this crusade came out of nowhere?), and Batman & Robin.

This Ain’t HuffPo:  A profile on a female Wizard staffer claims she was born a man…Jeph Loeb references “The Snapple Fat Lady” while trying to make a statement about the comics industry…Wizard staffers host another contest that ends with someone dressing in drag…the Princess Leia as Jabba’s Prisoner (a.k.a. “Slave Leia”) figure is referred to as a “hot li’l hoochie-mama”...“What’s she sportin’, a set of 38s with a 19-inch waist?  Yeesh.” - Wizard’s thoughts on Darkchylde…and the CBIQ quiz implies that Dr. Bones once attempted to use Spanish Fly on Mr. Spock.

Sick Burn, Wizard:  Remember when the magazine was telling us to get excited for a Shooter/Liefeld Youngblood?

Vive la France:  The French are hit pretty hard this issue.  A Wizard staffer has a run-in with a rude waiter at the French restaurant in Epcot Center (“%$#*ing French”)…Robin will have to face (“shudder”) the French in Robin #50…and Wizard wishes experiments in wormhole technology in 1997 could’ve led to France teleporting to Venus.

Pathological Scatological:  Cap just might lose control of his bowels while trapped inside a submarine in Captain America (1997) #2, and we’re reminded of the scent of methane that lingers in the halls of Wizard’s offices once again.

Commercial Break:

Wizard reports in a future issue that this group, H.E.A.T. spent thousands of dollars on this ad.  You can read an interview with Jack Grimes here.

Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?:  Wizard’s definitely gotten the hang of these giant-sized, year-ender issues.  Previous installments just repeated summaries of recent news stories, sometimes within a few pages of each other, but this feels like a genuine attempt to offer commentary on mainstream comics in 1997.  It’s a big, fat issue packed with exclusive content, and the stereotypical Wizard crudeness only rears its head a few times during the issue.

Until next time...

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